One of the most well known and one of the greatest leaders in the Middle East, Saladin has left his mark in the annals of history. His greatest achievement was the capture of Jerusalem from the crusaders during the third crusade. If you have ever seen the movie Kingdom of Heaven, you would have seen Hollywood’s representation of Him. But who was He really? Where did he come from? Why is he considered one of the greatest Muslim generals in history?

Let’s look into the life of this great leader and really figure out who was Saladin.

Early Life

Saladin was born in Tikrit (as An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub of Kurdish ethnicity), which is located in modern-day Iraq. Born into a prominent military family, He grew up learning about warfare. However, he had another passion, religion. Saladin was a devout Muslim. His focus would be military and religious studies; this would shape Him as a great Muslim leader.

Military Career

His first major foray into war was fighting in Egypt in three campaigns. The Muslims fought against the crusaders to keep the country from falling to them. Crusaders were not the only group Saladin had to deal with; other Muslim tribes and leaders were at his throat. Saladin wanted power and did whatever it took to gain control of the caliphate.

Saladin was a young commander rising through the ranks, and others resented him for this. The campaigns in Egypt were a success for Saladin, and he was able to gain not only the title of Vizier but also became the leader of the Syrian troops in Egypt. This was a major step in his career and a quick rise to power. At the age of 31, Saladin received the title of king or sultan.


For most of his career, Saladin fought against other Muslim tribes and leaders to unite the Muslim forces. A combination of gaining more power and pushing the crusaders out of the Middle East forced the leader to unify the Muslim tribes. Before Saladin, many of the tribes were fighting amongst each other and the crusaders at the same time. Because of this, the Muslims were not ready to expel the crusaders from the Middle East. Saladin forced unification to achieve this goal.

Many saw Saladin as a virtuous and firm ruler who would lead his people to victory over the invading Christian crusaders. Religion plays an important role in the crusaders’ eviction, as Jihad was used as justification for Saladin’s expeditions. Soon the greatest campaign in Saladin’s career would elevate the leader into the pages of history.

Battle of Hattin

Slowly, Saladin took the major cities that were held by the crusaders. Soon he set his eyes upon the crown jewel of the Middle East, Jerusalem. The city is coveted by three major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Isalm. Before the first crusade, the city was under the control of the Muslims. After the first crusade, Jerusalem would be under the control of the crusaders for the next 100 years. By the year 1187, Saladin would reclaim this important city back under the Muslim forces’ rule.

The final battle took place at Hattin; both armies were equally matched. Saladin used the crusader’s lack of preparedness to deal with the desert heat to his advantage. The crusaders were tired, thirsty, and underestimated the heat. Saladin was able to surround and destroy this large army with ease. The city of Jerusalem was left with very little defenses, and the city was handed over to the sultan peacefully. Saladin had accomplished a goal many sought to do for 100 years. This solidified his stamp on history.

Saladin’s Last Days

After the surrender of Jerusalem, the crusaders would never reclaim the city. Saladin would spend the rest of the third crusade fighting against the crusaders. Unfortunately, he would not find the same success as his capture of Jerusalem. Eventually, he would sign a peace deal with the leader of the crusaders at the time, Richard the Lionheart.

Tomb of Saladin
The Mausoleum of Saladin holds the resting place and grave of the medieval Muslim Ayyubid Sultan Saladin. And it is adjacent to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.

By 1192 Saladin had kept the crusaders at bay with only a foothold in the Middle East. Soon, years of fighting would catch up to the sultan, and he would die the following year in 1193 of a fever.

Conclusion and Legacy

Saladin would be remembered as a great leader and military general. His victory at Hattin and the surrender of Jerusalem would seal his legacy for years to come. Saladin is known as a firm and generous leader who was a devout Muslim. After his death, his empire would crumble as his family sought to take pieces for themselves. However, this would not taint the hard work of the pious leader.

And he is still looked upon as one of the greatest military leaders of the Muslim world.

Tomb Image: Umbertod

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